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Monday, May 31, 2010

Barcelona R.O.C.K.S

I have saved the best for last.

i am simply in love with this city called Barcelona.

I love the mix of old and new. And how everything seems to blend so well together. I love the food (paella and tapas -- what more can i ask??). Shopping is great. and the spanish people, generally very friendly and warm.

I am glad we arrived on Friday afternoon to spend the weekend before we board our cruise on Monday. and I am even more glad that we decided to spend another 2 days after our cruise ended cos 2.5 days isjust too short for barcelona ;p

The sunday we were there, Barcelona won their local league title and we definitely felt their pride and joy -- what with all the car horning on the roads right through midnight!!! :)) i was at one point tempted to buy a FCB cap or something to join in the revelry ;p hehehe.

We opted for the Barcelona Tourist Bus the weekend we arrived and i think it's really money well spent cos it was quite time saving and we covered the major sights. and it also makes us less tired ;p don't hv to navigate metro/bus connections and minimise walking ;p then when we returned from the cruise, cos we are more familiar with the city already and have also more or less planned what to do, we opted for the metro and walked alot!! in fact, on our last day, we basically walked the whole day, doing what we liked best -- shopping ;p

Staying at Condes Hotel on Passeig de Gracia was really great cos we are close to everything and everywhere (that matters!). Major Gaudi buildings were within walking distance and we could walk to Plaza catalunya, La Rambla, Barric Gothic etc as well. I had not intended to stay in a hotel for our trip. But all the Bed and Breakfast which i contacted were fully booked for the weekend before our cruise. So i had no choice but to expand my search to include hotels. and I am so glad i found Condes at a still reasonable price. If i return to barcelona again and have the budget, i would certainly want to stay @ COndes Hotel again :) it's really a lovely property and rooms spacious and new. and it has a cosy and intimate feel :)

We stayed @ Ally's Guesthouse (a B&B) for our return leg and it was good value for money :) although the property is old (which means creaking floors and old bathrooms), it was situated very near to Passeig de Gracia and is close to metro stations so it was really very convenient too.

Spanish food really suits our palette ;p and i don't hv to worry about kaira as well cos she's happy with mushrooms, spanish omelette and paella! yeah! suits us well :) throughout our stay in barcelona, we had either tapas or paella for our meals. yumz yumz yumz [o, except for that 1 meal of sandwich ;p]

On the cruise, we realised that Kaira can actually sit through a 30 minute performance. in fact she looks forward to the nightly after dinner show which usually means singing/dancing/magic show/acrobatics and can be very attentive throughout! So, i thought she might like to watch a Flamenco performance!

WHen we returned to barcelona, we decided to catch one. It lasted one hour and whilst she enjoyed the dancing by the female flamenco dancers, i can't say the same for the male dancer ;p everytime the female dancers take a break, she will be asking "where are the girl dancers"??? and interspersed between the dancing was singing by a particularly loud male singer which frightened her i think....so she was quite whiny and cried for short periods of the show. But overall, it was a good experience. A first for both her and me :)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Marseille

The last stop on our cruise itinerary is Marseille.

As with the other port towns we visited, it is yet another beautiful town!!!

The NotreDame is awesome. So majestic and beautiful. and so bright inside :) some churches are very dark inside but this, is in a class of its own -- the mosaic and detailing, very very beautiful.

Hubbie's initial plan was for us to trek up to the NotreDame ?!?!?! oh my, i am just glad we took the tourist tram ride instead! i don't think i would have made it up there on foot. ;p

and we had a great lunch of bouillabaisse :) was actually undecided whether we should pay for our own lunch ( since lunch is provided free on board the ship, we sometimes do a late lunch when we are day trips..... cheapo lah i know!!) but in the end, my desire to have bouillabaisse won.... hehehe. Must commend ourselves for the good choice!! the only "complain" was that i had the impression that bouillabaisse included shellfish and other seafood, not just fish.... but the one we had was purely fish -- 3 whole fish to be exact ! so i was a little taken aback abnd was worried that maybe it's a little too much fish for a dish ;p but the fish was very fresh and very delicious and we finished everything! ;)

Messina, Sicily

Messina was probably my least favorite port of call on this itinerary. maybe the wet and grey weather played a part. maybe it's the "mafia" influence....hehehe....the place feels abit "scruffy" ;p rough and tough sort of feeling ;D


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Genoa

The key characteristic which i love about Genoa (Genova) is its narrow cobblestoned streets. we've been to many italian cities during our last italian trip but i don't remember seeing anything like what i have seen in Genoa. The port area is modern and well developed. But once we head into the old town and ventured into the narrow streets -- thy are ful are full of surprises when we explore them and sometimes we don't really know where we are walking...we just go with the flow. the feeling is intimate and cosy (wellz, that's if one ignores the loads of tourists ;p)

Civitavecchia, Italy

This stop was meant for day trip into Rome. But since we have been to Rome and spent several days there before, we thought we'd take the opportunity to check out what this port town is all about.

plus, there was a free shuttle bus service provided by the city which takes us from our ship to the entrance of the city (no need to walk! ;p)

And i am glad we did. it's a very small town so we were able to walk about leisurely and visit the local market, have a taste of how the locals live, eat some gelato, and even found time for kaira to have a go at the local playground.

at the market, i saw, for the first time, zucchini flowers. we learn something every day! i was so intrigued by them ..... wonder what the italians use them for? decorative? cooking? unfortunately the stall holders were either too busy to entertain questions or they don't speak english, so it remains a mystery to me.

it was enjoyable walking through the local market. this town is not a place where we will purposely make our way to visit but as a stop on the cruise itinerary, it was nice and lovely.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Malta

The main natural resource on Malta is limestone -- and these are used to build houses, buildings etc -- and as a result, we have a very yellow landscape. the locals prefer to call the color "honey" ;) coupled with the abundance of cacti growing, it gave me a dry and arid feeling... like in a desert ;p

guess this is what sets it apart from other mediterranean towns.

My Inaugural budget airline flight to Girona

Yes yes, i am slightly behind times i know, my very first time on a budget airline. ;p

How did it go? Great.

Before our flight, i was researching on the net about Girona airport and how to get to the city. it seemed convenient enough based on the experiences of others yet at the same time, negative feedback about the taxis @ the bus station that we will arrive at in barcelona etc made me a little nervous especially when we are travelling with a child.

anywayz, it all turned out well and fine! the flight was smooth and on time and everything was very efficient and fast. after 1.5hours, we reached Girona airport. baggage retrieval was easy and fast and then we are to take a shuttle bus to the city. We didn't even have to really figure out where the bus is, cos one can just follow the crowd -- that's the good thing i suppose on this flight, majority of the passengers have the same destination.

o, due to the baggage weight restriction, we had to really pack well and in that sense, it helped cos we don't have a big luggage to lug around and our cabin sized luggages were easy to manouvre. so getting from the plane to the bus to the taxi to our hotel was quite OK :) i had originally fretted about not being able to bring as much as i would like to in our baggage (plus additional space to bring back our shopping!)afterall it's a 2 week trip! but we managed.

Would i fly it again?
Probably.

The reasons why my answer is not "Definitely" :
(a) timing and costs -- the timings of the flights can be quite horrendous if we really want to enjoy the cheap fares. but with a toddler, i figured we will have to stick to more "sane" timings -- and as a result i have a feeling that we didn't save much on flight costs. ;p

(b) baggage restriction -- for long trips, i think i prefer to have more allowance ;)

(c) how convenient will it be travelling from the destination airport into the city.

so, depending on the situation, i may. let's see!
at the eindhoven airport carpark


Tunis, Tunisia

The first stop on our cruise itinerary was Tunis the capital of Tunisia.

We arrived @ La Goulette the port area and was greeted by a rather modern yet traditional looking port area (still under construction though) -- so it looked kind of artificial ;p goes to show that the cruise tourists are of growing importance to this country.

we joined a half day city tour (which included shopping) and as we made our way through the streets of Tunis, i can't help but be amazed by the new fleet of taxis and there are just so many of them! i am not sure what's the standard of living here.....

Our first stop was the Medina the old town centre. It's a labyrinth of alleys, covered walkways and i am quite sure getting lost inside it was half the fun!!! but alas, we have a trusted guide who knows his way around and we simply followed ;)

the shops we brought to, were simply out to suck tourist $$$. gosh. if prices were a little more reasonable, i may have bought something! but i actually left the medina empty handed.

i enjoyed the little session on carpets -- although i know at the end of the day it's a "sale tactic" -- but yet it's quite fun -- gaining abit of knowledge about how to recognise handmade carpets and also being able to touch and feel the different quality of carpets.

Next, we headed to a town called Sidi Bou Said. It's known for it's blue and white houses.

And after that, it's time to return to the ship. whereby we were greeting by camels!! hahaha, so touristy!! but i like! kaira gets to see the real life camels up close although she was abit "afraid" of them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Life On Board MSC Splendida

Our second time on a cruise and we still like cruising! :)

but, i will probably not choose to cruise with MSC again (unless it's dirt cheap or freeeeee. hehehehe).

Prior to boarding, i must say that i have a better opinion of MSC than Costa (our first cruiseliner). Their embarkation documents were definitely more professional and information pack was professionally done. (unlike costa which was a bit haphazard.... )

@ the port, the embarkation procedure was also quite good. the set up was definitely more pro and everything quite smoooth and efficient. i remember last year it was really quite chaotic trying to board the ship.

after embarking, we were impressed by the ship facilities -- MSC Splendida is definitely a newer ship then the Costa Meditteranea so everything was quite modern and new. the cabin was good sized and well equipped.

After checking into our cabin, we realised we given second seating for dinner event hough we requested for first. We decided to request for a change. now, this is when everything went downhill.

the staff attending to us was rude. in fact, they initially tried to stop us from even making a request to change!! and gave us the "reason" that the request for first seating is not guaranteed, it was a request etc etc.

we know and we understand. but we have a 2.5 year old toddler and 930pm meal times is going to be hard. when we made our cruise bookings (last year and this year), the travel agent always assured us that with kids, the cruiseline will try to give us priority in terms of seating.

anywayz, we realised that there are many many other parents (with kids) who are also trying to make the change.

to cut the long story short, we managed to get first seating for 5 dinners out of the 7. i figured we can live with 2 late seatings.

then i remembered that Costa served complimentary buffet dinner (at the buffet restaurants) for the entire duration of the cruise for guests who prefer not to dine @ the assigned restaurants. so i thought, ok, maybe we can do that instead of waiting for the second seating. when i checked through the daily program we received fr MSC, i realised there's no option of a complimentray buffet dinner (if we didn't take the assigned restuarant dinner, our other choice was to pay for our dinner @ the specialty restaurant). not very customer friendly!!!! in fact, downright penny pinching if u ask me ;(

however, on the last 2 nites, they actually did open up an earlier dinner buffet, supposedly for families with children who couldn't wait for the second seaing (but actually it;s for everyone lah). but, they didn't announce it via the daily program or at the restaurant so we actually weren't aware of it until the last nite!

i am like, if u want to do something, do it well please! why do it, and make the customer feel that u actually don't want to provide it?

whenever we are aboard the cruise, it felt more crowded than our first cruise experience even though the ship appeared bigger. everywhere was crowded. the lounge, pool etc. maybe the ship is not as big??? or are there just so many passengers ?? i wasn't sure. i felt it was the latter.

a conversation with the staff proved that i was right. he was telling us that compared to the other cruise ships, MSC has more life boats -- this means that it probably carries more passengers per cruise than the others. i know companies have to be bottomline focused but when it is not well balanced, u end up with passengers like me who will not cruise again with MSC. and i can assure you that we are not the only one who came to this conclusion.

there were friendly staff on board no doubt. but quite alot of them are stony faced and some, sulky in fact! and throughout my 8 days on board, i have had more experience with unhelpful staff than helpful ones. that's pathetic!! they are supposed to make the passengers happy!!! not the other way round!!!

another area which i wasn't too happy about is their shore excursions. i understand that all cruises will want to "push" for the passengers to take up shore excursions, this is where the money is made. but MSC leaves me feeling that i have no choice. on our Baltic cruise with Costa, it was clear beforehand that there will be shuttle buses (at a price of course) for those who are not taking the shore excursions. Costa even had maps printed and the staff will indicate for us where the shuttle bus pick up points are.

on this cruise, there were no city maps available onboard and whenever i inquire about the shuttle bus, i was given vague answers. i resorted to asking our server during dinner for more information about each port and the mode of transportation. In the end, shuttle bus service was available in Marseille and Civitavecchia (but this is by the city itself.)

ok, enough ranting about why i don't like MSC, i have to say that their entertainment shows were quite good. we watched it almost every night and kaira enjoyed herself watching the performances!

Guess we will not be cruising with them again. Hmmmm, which cruise line shall we try next?? :) :) we are definitely still fans of cruising!!!

Kaira In Barcelona

We are Back!

What a great vacation! close to 2 weeks of sun and great weather that i almost forgot what it means to be cold..... until we touched down in eindhoven today to be greeted by rain and 10degrees celsius!!!

back to my reality :(

anywayz, back to our sunny vacation :)) we spent 5 days in barcelona and went on a 7D cruise (Tunis, Malta, Messina (sicily), genoa, civitevecchio (Rome) and Marseille)

so many many photos to upload and so much to write about before i forget!! i am really getting old ..... memories fade quite quickly.

that's one of the reason i like blogging, i can refer to "my past" when i need to! :)

k, more on our vacation later!

here's something to remind me barcelona -- such a vibrant and beautiful city. i love it.

view from the MNAC (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A wintry nite.......

tonite feels like a wintry day.... temperature hovering ard 5degrees, rain. it's suppose to be spring, going to summer!!! not autumn to winter :((

*sigh* that's the kind of weather we get here :(

Sunday, May 09, 2010

This made me weepy......

it ocurred to me today that as time goes by and as the little one grows up, she will probably have vague memories of the times now.

what i treasure so much now, she may not remember. even though bits and parts of it is captured on print or videos, i know she may not be able to feel the warmth of the moment as much as i can and will.

the singing before sleep. the clasping of our hands. hugging and carrying her to provide comfort when she's crying. walking hand in hand in our neighbourhood. her spontaneous laughter and kisses. the joy of hearing her sprout new words and songs. the pride when she accomplishes something new. and so much more.

they are etched in my memory. i am not sure what place they may have in her memory as she grows. for me, i know i will periodically take some of these out of my memory bank to reminiscence and treasure.

and yes, this is a reminder to treasure the moment. for i do not know what tomorrow brings. it will be sad if even I lose this memory .......

Vrooom Vrooom ....

On her new "motorbike" .....




Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Over the Rainbow

The last few weeks, we have been watching - Over the Rainbow - a talent search show, on BBC, for Dorothy, the main lead for Wizard of Oz.

Kaira enjoys watching the performances very much and now Over the Rainbow is the song "for the moment".

Here's her partial rendition. Maybe one day, she could be Dorothy??? Hahahaha....

video

Monday, May 03, 2010

kaira's 金句!

can't remember what she was doing and she wasn't supposed to do it. so after repeated warnings, and she's still doing it, i raised my voice @ her.

and she replied :

"Mummy, don't shout so loud!"

aiyo, i had to laugh..... so funnie. can't be angry after that.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

"Mushroom"??

School's close for the next 2 weeks for the May vacation. So last tuesday was officially the last day of school for her (since Fri is a public holiday) and when i picked her up, i received a small present from her. She came home with this :



I asked her what this is, and she said "MUSHROOM"!!

Hahaha.

Actually, it's something they made in class for Mother's Day. and as the teachers put a small bag of sweets in the "mushroom" before wrapping it up -- i think it's meant to be a "bowl" lah!!

But mushroom it shall be :)

My first mother's day gift. I

Lille - Photos

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Lille

Today's Queen's Day here in the netherlands -- wellz, we decided to head out instead of painting the town orange ;)

So off to Lille, a 2.5 hours ride from our place.

We reached Lille just before noon and headed for lunch. and then some shopping! coming from eindhoven, this is like heaven ;p even if i am just buying toiletries for kaira and stocking up on organic snacks for her!! hahaha. and Carrefour is just so big it's daunting! i only managed a few isles before i surrendered.

lots of window shopping one can do here in Lille and that suits me fine ;) we even found time to enjoy the greenery of Lille!



but as usual with most of my trips, the highlight is in the eating. i forgot to take note of the name of our lunch place, think it's Cafe Leffe or something -- it was good and not too pricey. i had a baked cod and hubbie had tripe sausage (which according to him was nice. but i didn't even want to eat it cos the smell!!! yipes, just puts me off ;p) 1 set meal, 1 a-la-carte main course, 1 drink for under 30 euros.


tea was @ Meert. Now this is a place worth visiting. maybe it was quiet today so it's especially tranquil and relaxing and the desserts really good. only thing is, it comes @ a price ;p we forgot to order their waffle -- that's what they are famous for!! i read up before going but when we reached there, there's just so much to choose that i completely forgot about it! but the dessert i chose, the seasonal tart which is strawberry and pistachio cream was just yummylicious!! worth every calorie! hehehe




Dinner was @ Hippotamus. Above average and not pricey :) and most importantly kids friendly! :)


It was a long day ....... we left home @ 9am and reached home @ 10pm!! one of the longest day trips we had! but it was worth it cos we really felt that we didn't have to rush.... we walked quite a fair bit, while away time eating and drinking and in between, did some shopping and took in the sights.

(will post pictures of the little one later ..... tired liao ..... nite nite)